Glory to your coming that restored humankind to life.
(Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns of the Nativity)
Because of the shadows, we miss our brother’s face,
our sister’s gaze.
The pace of the crowd moves us forward.
If you reached out
to touch my garment, I would not feel.
This power departs us daily:
to see, to know.
O Brother, true human:
You reach where least expected.
These shadows flee; let us not retreat.
Come where we scarce have courage to go;
to make us whole.
What hope does everlasting life hold for us? It reminds us that this present fallen world is not all there is; soon we will live with and enjoy God forever in the new city, in the new heaven and the new earth, where we will be fully and forever freed from all sin and will inhabit renewed, resurrection bodies in a renewed, restored creation. (New City Catechism)
When the door swings out and, face-to-face we realise
all our clutching life could only mimic, never be,
we shall not fall
for all our walking here has been stumbling.
Now we stumble –
for who wouldn’t, when wandering in cloud?
Then we shall move
in the fluency of union,
life itself again – no shadow –
and never will we grasp for knowing
that we are held
What else does Christ’s death redeem? Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good.
(New City Catechism)
Yet the cost went deeper than souls
and weathered the tree-trunks
and withered the whole.
The cost ate into friendship
and sucked all the marrow
from health and heart’s-ease.
So the victory’s deeper too
than our sin:
the redemption stretches vast across bowers
and sucks sin’s curse from earth’s veins.
Look on Him now: the one whom we’ve slain
in the truth which digs deep into soil
and restores the broken earth whole.
Why must the Redeemer be truly God? That because of his divine nature his obedience and suffering would be perfect and effective; and also that he would be able to bear the righteous anger of God against sin and yet overcome death. (New City Catechism)
too great to pay ourselves,
too far for us to reach,
too deeply in for blemished hands
to scrub or take away,
the Son –
the spotless and unblemished one –
appointed from the start of time
to take what human hands have wrought,
all suffering and shame.
the wrath is overcome,
is conquered with the Son’s bright rise.
the greatest battle’s won,
the impossible is done.
What sort of Redeemer is needed to bring us back to God?One who is truly human and also truly God.(New City Catechism)
Can both dwell in one body –
God and man,
torn asunder, the two
were somehow reconciled?
As far as east is from west:
the division of
holy and human
yet brought somehow together,
one man across the chasm.
From dust, yet glorious:
what does this
now tell of us
who say, To err is human,
and hide in this excuse?
Before the fact,
Before the light,
Before the waters and their domes,
Before the dust,
Before the breath,
Before the rib, before the sleep,
Before the names,
Before the planting,
Before the harvest and the fruits,
Before the notion,
Before the garden,
Before the apple and the tree,
Before the leaves,
Before the crushing,
Before the biting of the heel,
Before the sword,
Before the cherub,
Before the roaring of the seas,
Before the dove,
Before the olive,
Before the bow turned up at me,
Before the child,
Before the temple,
Before the palm-leaves and the tree,
Before the skull,
Before the nails,
Before the breaking of the tomb,
Before the rise,
Before the many,
Before the Body and the feet,
Before the fall and rise of many,
Before the rift, before the mercy,
Before the Law, before the language,
Before it all – the plan.
George Herbert wrote around four hundred years ago, but his poetry is still powerfully immediate today. Perhaps it’s the sometimes shocking honesty of his work, perhaps the incredible confidence with which he moves between poetic forms and makes them altogether his own. This is particularly apparent in the handful of sonnets that he wrote. Herbert rarely wrote sonnets, but when he did they were powerful – so powerful that you often forgot you were even reading a sonnet.
Take “Redemption”, for example, one of my personal favourites. Breaking with a tradition that sees sonnets often being addresses to a beloved or an exposition of a theme, this sonnet is a story and one with an undeniable bite to it at the end. I have used “Redemption” as the starting point for a new poem which I have called “Justification”. Like Herbert’s poem, it tells a story which illustrates a theological concept. I have tried to stick as closely as possible to Herbert’s form without recycling his ideas. Here are both poems for you to read.
Tired out from night on night awake,
Hurling back and forth these arguments,
Revising who said this, made that mistake,
My head worn out, my body weak and dense,
I set before you my best-argued case,
My final, full summation of the facts.
The spleen I vented then before your face
Fell in the night, the thudding of an axe.
I turned to you, expecting angry flame,
An answer thick with all your wounded pride;
Instead I saw blood flowing from your side.
You smiled in the silence of my shame.
All mine is yours, whispered your last heart beat;
You took my words and nailed them through your feet.
George Herbert – Redemption
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought;
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possessiòn.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.